See the line where the sky meets the sea? (career change edition)
November 6, 2019 8:08 PM   Subscribe

I want go into ocean science - but I have to navigate some tricky obstacles and a whole lot of unknowns. I also have no idea what I'm doing. More below the fold.

It boils down to this: I need to do something different with my life. The career path that I've been on for the past two decades (let's call it "tornado chasing" for the sake of anonymity) is in peril. I am lucky to have a full-time job with benefits, but it has been very bad for my health and sanity, and it won't be better at another place.

After some intense soul-searching over the past few years (plus lots of time on top of, or under, water), I realize that I'm really, really into marine science. I recently took some related community college classes and just loved every minute of it. Physical oceanography, marine geology, and coastal science are my jam. I have nothing against biology or charismatic megafauna, but, honestly, littoral drift is way more interesting!

Anyway, it's pretty clear this is the direction that my poor heart is pulling me, but that's where the clarity ends. I have no clue what to do next.

To complicate things, I did not excel in math or science when I was in school the first time around (I'm from a working class, immigrant family and a lot of bad shit happened along the way), though I'm confident I can hammer my way through it as an adult. Unfortunately, I have a long commute and an unpredictable work schedule, so that part will be hard to negotiate until things change.

Secondly, I don't have a lot of focus as far as what area(s) or jobs to pursue, except I know for sure that I'm not interested in pursuing a PhD or going into academia. My biggest questions are whether I really need to go back to school...or if any of this is a really good idea in the long term. I have no illusions about getting rich, but I'm not getting any younger, and I have bills to pay and an aging parent to consider.

So where do I go from here? I'm open to suggestions, especially as far as what skills or experience I should pick up to make this kind of transition, or, more importantly, figure out where exactly I'm going.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (2 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
From your question I'm getting that you are interested in physical science and coastal waters? The good news is that there is a massive amount of work in that field due to coastal development and sea level rise. Most people have degrees in engineering, coastal geomorphology or physical or chemical oceanography with a coastal focus. I see probably 2-10 ads every day for grad students in that field and its damn hard to hire anyone to do things like sediment studies becuase there is so much need. The math is fairly simple, don't let that concern you, you can do it!

There is also a need for GIS analysts, engineering and planners with the right background as well as policy jobs and advisors to politicians. And lots of advocacy and education: talking to landowners and so on and so forth.

Classic oceanography is more concerned with the open sea. Its a great field but you will spend a lot of time at sea. I have friends who spent 9+ months at sea for years, even decades. You can transition away from long cruises but you have to spend some years doing it.

If i were you I'd get that degree, do as much as you can in community college and then transfer. Focus on becoming proficient in modeling. And get as much work experience as you can. You should be able to pick up fieldwork part time and in the summers. Being able to collect data, drive a boat and do basic modeling will get you a job in that field. Or a paid MS if you go that route, I agree not to do a PhD if you're not going to stay in academia.
posted by fshgrl at 9:50 PM on November 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

Physical oceanography, marine geology, and coastal science are my jam. ... So where do I go from here?

What are your academic/ experience credentials in those fields?

Which level (support grunt/ primary/ supervision/ policy) do you currently want to work in those fields? In the future?

Where (field/ lab/ office/ lobbying) do you want to work in those fields?

Do you want to work at the primary/ supervisory/ policy levels?


took some related community college classes

Depending on what classes you took (purely theory, or field/ "lab" work involved) - you might be able to get in the door as a "research assistant" to build up experience out in the field for an academician. Probably much (much!) lower paying than your current job, require travel, require spending time in the field, and the jobs are usually pretty precarious/ seasonal and you might need professional safety certs.

Such experience might make you qualified for governmental staff positions in a relevant ministry.

There is some commercial work out there, usually related to licensing or regulatory compliance (or maybe insurance) - anything that a startup or big corp might be looking for would require a PhD or some serious and exemplary field experience - and probably requires a relevant engineering degree.

nothing against biology

Not a discouragement, but WAAAY back, "I wanted to be a marine biologist when I grew up," was a metafilter/ metafilter-adjacent thing/ meme.

I can't recall any one of us actually ended up being a marine biologist. Might have been the one, but all of us ended up in different professions.
posted by porpoise at 8:41 PM on November 7, 2019

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